Sports

An Unbelievable Story of Survival…or Just an Unbelievable Story?

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Former Miami Dolphin Robert Konrad told police he fell off his boat while fishing solo off the coast of Florida on Wednesday and survived in the Atlantic Ocean for 16 hours. Shannon Stapleton/Reuters

A former Miami Dolphin has an extraordinary tale of survival at sea. Robert Konrad told police he fell off his boat while fishing solo off the coast of Florida on Wednesday and survived in the Atlantic Ocean for 16 hours.

At 4:40 a.m. on Thursday morning Konrad, 38, approached a Palm Beach police officer who was working security detail at an oceanfront mansion on the tony 1800 block of Ocean Boulevard in Palm Beach. The former Dolphins fullback, who was clad only in his underwear when he was taken to the hospital, had been reported missing to the Coast Guard six hours earlier. According to the Palm Beach Post, Konrad told the officer he had fallen off his boat at around 1 p.m., nearly 16 hours earlier, and swum back to shore.

The Florida Wildlife Commission, which has jurisdiction on most boating accidents or incidents in the state, has launched an investigation. Konrad was at Good Samaritan Hospital in West Palm Beach on Friday afternoon recovering from hypothermia. “Robert is okay, he is recovering and he thanks everyone for their concern,” said longtime Dolphins media relations spokesperson Harvey Greene.

On Wednesday afternoon Konrad, who played for the Dolphins from 1999-2004, departed on a solo fishing excursion out of Deerfield Beach, north of Miami. He navigated a blue-and-white 36-foot sports fisher out of the Hillsboro inlet at approximately 10:30 a.m. According to what Konrad told police, he hooked a fish at around 1 p.m., lost his footing and fell from the vessel, which was proceeding at 5 m.p.h. on autopilot.

When Konrad, who is now the CEO of Alterna Financial in Boca Raton, failed to return to the marina where he was scheduled to put in for repairs later that day, his friends became concerned. At 10:45 p.m. one of them phoned the Coast Guard which, according to Petty Officer Mark Barney, launched a search-and-rescue operation roughly half an hour later.

That mission was unsuccessful, and Konrad’s boat was recovered on Thursday off the island of Grand Bahama, 54 miles east of the Florida coast.

Several aspects of Konrad’s adventure merit closer scrutiny. First, while the waters off the coast of Broward and Palm Beach Counties are relatively warm thanks both to latitude and the Gulf Stream, Wednesday night was one of the coldest nights of the year in the area, with water temperatures hovering at roughly 70 (comfortable for a brief, but not extended, period of time). Second, why was he fishing alone? Third, if Konrad did survive 16 hours in the ocean before making landfall some 33 miles north of where his voyage began, how far offshore was he when he, as one official from the Fish and Wildlife Commission put it, “allegedly fell from the boat?”

While Konrad is a former NFL athlete, his swimming prowess is unknown. Konrad, who starred at Syracuse and was the last player in the program’s history to wear the famed No. 44 jersey (following in the footsteps of legendary running backs Jim Brown, Ernie Davis and Floyd Little) before the school retired it, has not spoken publicly about the incident. Calls by Newsweek to Alterna Financial --where Konrad’s extension is “44”-- went unanswered on Friday.

Such tales of survival are not unheard of. Last June 21 a couple fell from their boat off Key Largo and drifted 82 miles up the Florida coast before being rescued seven miles off the coast of Hallandale Beach. Even though that misadventure (“I don’t know what they were doing when they fell over,” said one of the men who rescued them, “but they must have been having a good time”) occurred at the advent of summer, both victims were shivering after 13 hours in the water. Konrad, however, allegedly spent three more hours in those waters --an area that has the highest incidence of reported shark attacks world-wide the past decade-- during one of the coldest nights of the year.

Even if Konrad did swim back to shore, how was he able to avoid a debilitating bout of hypothermia? Is his a story of Unbroken-like perseverance, or is there something fishy about this Dolphin’s tale?